Before heading off on international duty with England, Reece James became the latest player to spend time answering our 10 questions…
The Academy graduate has continued to impress during his first full season with the senior squad at Chelsea, having missed the first two months of his debut campaign through injury, as well as adapting to a new role in the team as a wing-back under Thomas Tuchel.
In our exclusive interview, James discusses competition for places, earning international recognition and learning alongside a club legend…
2020/21 is your first experience of being involved through a whole Premier League season. How are you finding it?
Physically I’m feeling good. Last season I had an injury at the start of the season so it took a while getting into it, but this season I’m happy with the amount of games I’ve played so far.
Being in and around the team right from the start, it always helps. Coming into the season late, when the team’s doing well, is always tough, so being there from the start, from the get-go, is always easier and helps you gel quicker.
Has the squad rotation we have seen this season helped?
When the competition’s always so high, there’s so many good players around you, I think sometimes rotation and competition helps bring the best out of myself and the other players. It keeps you on your toes and pushes you every day in training as well, just to make sure that you are playing and you get the best out of yourself and the rest of the players.
Recently you have gone from competing with Cesar Azpilicueta for a spot at right-back to playing alongside him as a wing-back. Has he been a big help with your development?
Yeah, of course. He’s been at the club for a number of years and is a club legend. Playing in front of him is great and knowing I’ve got him behind me is a very good feeling as well. I always feel safe and secure on the pitch.
Ever since I came into the senior squad, right from the start, he’s always been supporting and helping and guiding me and he still does that now.
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Tuchel has introduced a very fluid system on the pitch. Has Azpilicueta overlapping you from centre-back taken a bit of getting used to?
Yeah, it’s taken a little bit of getting used to, to be fair. I’m not used to my centre-backs running past me, but I’ve played enough and it’s become normal now.
It just comes back to understanding and I think as a team we’re growing as well. Game by game we’re getting stronger. Working together and working as a team is helping a lot. How hard we work in training is reflected on the pitch.
You are in the England squad for this week’s World Cup qualifiers and the Euros are coming up in the summer. Does the chance of going to that tournament add an extra incentive to end the season well?
It’s obviously great getting another call-up for my national team and we need to get these three games out of the way first, but yeah, the aim is to go to the Euros with England and hopefully we can finish off the season very well at Chelsea and we’ll see where that takes us at the end of the season.
If you dangle a chance like that in front of anyone, it will always motivate them and keep them working hard and focused on the end goal.
After getting a red card on your last competitive international appearance, you received public support from manager Gareth Southgate and your team-mates. Did that help you feel part of the England squad?
I made a mistake in the game but I think everyone around me, the staff, all the players, they kind of got together and made me feel at home and just said ‘it was a mistake but don’t dwell on it, you need to move on’. They told me that I played well in the game, so don’t look at the negative of getting sent off.
Do you think your previous experiences of a tense end to a season at Chelsea and on loan at Wigan will help in the current run-in?
The target this season is, come the end of the season, to have trophies. The aim of the club and everyone here is to win titles and we’re still in many competitions. We need to keep up our good form and keep working together as a team and hopefully we can achieve that.
I think wherever you learn anything, you can always take it wherever you go, no matter the situation. In football, many situations, they always reoccur, and I just have to take the experience from what I’ve learned and what I’ve got and use it in the challenges that are going to come up towards the end of this season.
Two aspects of your game that have been noticeable recently are your athleticism and ability controlling the ball on your chest. Are those things you have worked on a lot?
I’ve always been quite a strong and powerful boy, but getting faster and stronger and tougher is not going to make me a worse player, so I’ve always tried to improve on it wherever I can and hopefully it transfers onto the pitch.
I worked on chesting the ball quite a lot when I was a younger lad coming through in the Academy, but I don’t know, if the ball comes to my chest, I control it with my chest. It’s not something I really think about or do deliberately. Because I practised, now I do it without thinking, I’m suppose I’m just very comfortable controlling it on my chest and bringing it down.
You’ve been doing a lot of charity work recently, especially with the Felix Project. Is that something you had always wanted to get involved in?
I’ve always thought about doing it, but when the time was right was another question. When I started helping them out I said it was when I felt the time was right. I have a great relationship with the Felix Project and still work with them on a regular basis, it’s going well.
There are many other players who have done very good things too, like Marcus Rashford has helped a number of school kids and other kids that are in the Manchester area, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I knew that when the time was right I was going to do it.
Your sister Lauren is also a professional footballer with Manchester United Women and your dad is still involved in the game as a coach. Is football all you talk about at family get-togethers?
Most of the time it is about football, because me and my sister both play, so a lot of the time the topic is football, but we do have other discussions as well!
Whenever she’s playing on TV or I get a chance to watch a game I always give it a watch. This season she’s been injured quite a bit so it’s been tough for her.
She comes to me quite a lot with different things. I’m older and more experienced than her, so I try to help her whenever I can and whenever she feels like she needs guiding.